In today’s work force, encouraging employee engagement can be a struggle, especially considering the economic troubles. However, developing a connection between company executives and employees can improve engagement, says Jason Carney, director of human resources at WorkSmart Systems Inc., a professional employer organization in Indianapolis. As many employees are not seeing the kind of pay raises that may have happened before the recession, it’s increasingly important to find other ways to foster engagement, and developing those key relationships is a huge step in the right direction.
“Any time you have the ‘us versus them’ mentality, no amount of pay or benefits will keep someone engaged and looking forward to coming to their jobs every day,” Carney says. “The more you can portray your senior executives as humans with the same issues and struggles and who are open to the ideas of everyone else, the more engaged your folks will be. Anything that can make someone get out of bed and want to go to work besides pay and benefits is huge.”
Helping the work force feel connected to executives is also important because it provides employees with insight as to where the company is heading, says Sheryl Kovach, entrepreneur and president and CEO of Kandor Group, a human resources consulting firm in Houston. When there is a sense of ambiguity, employees can feel stressed, and that uncertainty can impact their performances. This is especially important as the economy is still recovering.
“It’s so critical to keep communication flowing from the top down,” Kovach says. “Employees need to have some degree of clarity and confidence in where the organization is going, and knowing what’s going on provides employees with some security from a psychological standpoint, even if it’s bad news.”
Carney finds connecting key performers and executives is best accomplished through mentoring or development programs, but for nonkey performers and new hires, who are both often forgotten in this process, the connection can be made by a simple monthly coffee with the groups. Typically, there is such an emphasis on the key performers that the nonkey performers are ignored, which could lead to disengagement and, thus, decreased productivity. But a minimal time and financial investment can avoid leaving that bitter feeling among nonkey performers.
“A coffee only takes a half an hour or an hour,” Carney says. “It’s a handshake; it’s making some sort of a connection – I think that’s huge. It certainly doesn’t take money, and it doesn’t take a lot of time. I really think it’s good for both sides.”
When executives are connecting with employees – both key performers and nonkey performers – this is the time to look for feedback, but executives should be ready to follow through, Kovach says. Part of helping employees feel connected to executives is promoting an open environment, and if their feedback is ignored, the gap between the two groups could widen.
“Don’t ignore the complaint and never follow up with feedback,” Kovach says. “That tarnishes credibility. Even if the answer is not what that person wants to hear, executives need to follow through, and they need to do so with humility and confidence, which will get respect from employees, and they’ll be more likely to follow an open-door policy.”